Thailand: Part 2 First Day in Bangkok; longtail boat ride and floating market

Sunday, July 26, 2015

We were simultaneously excited and exhausted last night when we arrived. We had seen a lively cafe outside the doors of our hotel room, and for a moment, the devil on our left shoulder whispered about going over for just one beer. Luckily the angel on the other shoulder was talking louder, and she had common sense and exhaustion on her side. We stayed in the room, popped open a beer from the minibar and watched the scenery from the balcony for a few minutes. Greg and I split a sleeping pill. Genene needed no help and went right to bed. She slept more on the plane than either of us, so she popped up at 5:00 AM ready to rumble. I convinced her to lay back down until a more civilized hour and we all started stirring at 7:30 or so.

We had a delicious continental breakfast at the hotel. We tried our first dragonfruit. It has a red rind, and the inside is white with small, fine seeds. The flavor was akin to a kiwi but not as sweet. We had a Chinese steamed cream bun, which was some kind of confection with a custard filling. They were delicate, sweet and delicious.

After breakfast, we took a stroll around our neighborhood. We walked down the main street for a while, and the tuk-tuk drivers hustled us mercilessly. We just wanted to walk, but every few feet they would pull up or walk up or call out to us from the road. One of them hounded us at least three different times. He kept saying, “Just 20 baht to see all the Buddhas.” Greg said to me, “I’ll pay him 20 baht to go away and leave us alone.” The exchange rate is 35 baht to 1 US dollar, so the ride would have been cheap, if he had really taken us anywhere we wanted to go. Our guide gave us the same warning as Bill Abel: you must be careful about the tuk-tuk drivers. They like to take you to their “friends” from whom they get a kickback. We politely but firmly told each one who approached that we were not interested today. I do want to ride in one, but this morning, we just wanted to stroll and get the lay of the land.

Coconuts by the truckload.

Tuk-tuk and rider.
I practiced my panning shots. I want to get one of a tuk-tuk whizzing by before we leave, but today I caught the scooterman.
For my water district friends, check out this fire hydrant.
I was thrown off my game for a while this morning because I lost a valuable bottle of anti-malarial medicine. We always dutifully go to the travel doctor before our trips, and the cost of the visits and prescriptions is astronomical. I put one of the three bottles in my purse for “safekeeping on the plane,” and when I unloaded the purse this morning, it was gone. I’m sure the bottle is rolling around somewhere on the floor of one of the Korean Air planes. Luckily Genene, Greg and I are all on the same dosage, so we have the other two bottles and are not in immediate danger. In fact, we lacked just two pills having enough to tide us over until we get back to the states, where we could then get the replacement bottle stateside for the week’s dosage that we take after we return. I was fretting about having to deal with a chore just as soon as we return. I should not have worried. During our morning walk, I popped my head into a pharmacy and asked the pharmacist if she had any malaria medications. She went right to the back, pulled out a sleeve of exactly the medicine we were taking and offered to sell them to me at $30 less than I paid in the US. No need for those pesky prescriptions. Problem solved!
We stopped for an early lunch. Greg had a fried rice with bacon. I had fried rice with salmon. Genene had a salmon sandwich. It was all good.
Ken arrived promptly at noon. We stepped around to the back of the hotel, where the river lapped at our feet. Our private longtail boat was waiting. We sailed up the river and into the canal system. The motor is very loud, and you can see all the moving parts and belts. I’m sure some of the pilots have lost fingers in the whirring machinery.
This lady is selling souvenirs on the water.
The lady Buddha is known as the Buddha of mercy.
Our first stop along the canal was to feed the catfish. Ken told us that around the temples, it is forbidden to kill anything. If the catfish stray out of the area around the temple, they are fair game. It is good luck to feed them. He bought a loaf of bread from a lady on the shore and we threw big chunks into the water. It didn’t take long for the surface of the water to start roiling. Ken explained that these catfish are too big for eating. They would be too oily.
The boat pilots hang flowers and decorations on the prow of the boat as an offering to the boat spirits.
Our next stop was the floating market, a place filled with delights.
This lady was selling live eels and turtles. Ken explained that some people buy them and turn them loose for good luck. We also saw another lady selling lottery tickets. I guess you can buy the eel, turn him loose and then go get your winning ticket.
This lady is making papaya salad on her boat.
This lady is making a sticky sweet noodle confection. Ken bought us a bag to munch on, and it was delicious.
Our favorite purchases were a coconut fried pancake and a mangosteen fruit.
Durian. This fruit has a very stinky smell but supposedly tastes good. We did not try any today. Ken told us that some apartments prohibit their tenants from having them because of their obnoxious smell.
Thai baby eggplant. This vegetable is found in green curries. In the US, many chefs substitute with green peas.
Ken bought us a burned coconut. The lady used the blunt end of a butcher knife to whack the top off.
Voila, a delicious drink.
This man was making a dish similar to pad thai in a crepe.
Would you like some meat on a stick?
How about catfish on a stick?
Fanning the coals over the prawns.
Colorful souvenirs.
We got back on the water. I enjoy looking at infrastructure. A fresh water line ran parallel to the river bank. Every few hundred feet, it was elevated to allow boats to pass under.
Laundry day.
Greg is happy anytime he is on water.
Woman’s work.
A Thai family would not dream of building a home for themselves without first building a home for the land spirits. Offerings are made to show respect to the spirits. Here is one such home.
Our next stop was the artists’ house, a place where people come to train in the old ways of Thailand: painting, drawing, puppetry, etc. Ken lamented that the young people are not interested in such things and instead prefer pop music. The Thai people must work hard to keep the culture alive. We took off our shoes before entering. Ken warned us not step on the threshold. The guardian spirit lives there and protects the home from evil spirits. This belief also has a very practical utility: it helps children learn to step up and over the threshold to avoid tripping and falling into the river.
It was at this stop that we encountered our first “not modern” toilet. We had read about them but until now had been enjoying our western style luxury hotel pot. This was different. It was porcelain, all right, but there was no seat. You had to hover over it in a half squat and do your business. It reminded me of going to the drive-in theater when I was a kid and Mom wouldn’t let me sit on the seat because she was afraid I would get some dreaded unmentionable disease. It also reminded me of our old office on 1100 Louisiana. We shared the floor with another tenant, and I called one of the ladies in their office “the dribbler.” You can guess why. Anyway, back to the Thai toilet. It didn’t flush. There was a large pail of clean water beside it with a scoop inside. You simply scoop up some water and wash away your waste. We Americans are so spoiled that we actually do our business in potable water. It is eye-opening to see how the rest of the world lives. Well, enough bathroom talk.
We came to the artists’ house see a puppet show, but alas, the artists got a better paying gig somewhere else and so were not in residence. It’s a shame we did not see these magnificent puppets in action.
The view from the upstairs windows was nice.
A beautiful piece of artwork.
We sat down to have a Thai tea and an appetizer called miang kham. You put the sauce on top, fold the leave up and pop the entire bite into your mouth. They were delicious!
We pulled away fat and happy.
Thai cowboy. Yee haw!
We traveled through these lock gates.
As you can see, I took many photos, but there were also images that I did not capture: an old toothless man waving enthusiastically at us from the shore; a very old barely conscious woman laying flat on the ground just inside a doorway, with her daughter (I assume) fanning her; a man getting a very peculiar massage with the glass bottle cupping, something I haven’t seen since “The Fearless Vampire Killers.” Some of the scenes passed too fast for me to get my camera up to my face. In other cases, I did not feel right taking the shot because it looked too much like misery, and I did not want to exploit that. Life in all its brutal glory gets carried out on these streets.
Ken told us that neighbors used to know each other. Thailand is hot, and everyone had open windows and open doors. Everyone knew each other’s business. You could find any person in a village if you knew his parents’ name. You had simply to walk up, say the name, say the parent’s names, and the way would be shown. Now more and more Thai people have air conditioning. They close their doors and windows and homes. Neighbors live side by side but do not know each other. Is it so different in the US? I can’t name half the people on my block.
We headed back into the main channel of the river. Boats were everywhere: longtails, cruise boats, ferries. They were speeding along, churning up the water and traveling at every wacky angle. I wonder how many collisions they have. I was surprised we didn’t see one. The river had waves like the ocean from all the boat wakes.
A fairly quiet moment on the river. (During the boat melee, I had to keep my camera down to keep it from getting splashed.)
The Grand Palace as seen from the water. We will go there tomorrow for a tour.
We got out of the longtail, tipped our pilot and took a brief walk around our neighborhood with Ken.
A banyan tree with offerings.
We stopped at a temple where we made an offering. Ken explained that we are not required to be Buddhist to do so. He made a small donation for us for the upkeep of the temple, for which we got a flower, and candle, and three sticks of incense.
Genene lighting the incense.
The interior of the temple.
Ken left us in mid afternoon and we went back to our hotel for a shower and a siesta. We were thrilled to get both. It is hot, muggy and sticky here, and our clothes were stuck to our backs.
We went back out for dinner after the sun had set.
We ordered spring rolls, curries, and chicken wings. It was all delicious, but we thought the curries were very mild. I think they gave us the gringo treatment. It’s probably just as well, since my belly has been a little uneasy today. We have been on a carb-free diet for a couple of weeks so we could lose a little weight. I am reintroducing those carbs in full force today, and my belly is shifting back into gear. I’m planning to pack all the weight back on again during this trip. Yoyo!
We want to get massages, but we were all tired tonight and I wanted to get close to my big, fancy, modern toilet so we walked straight back to the hotel. Greg and Genene have already passed out, and I am going to be right behind them. Ken comes to get us at 8:30. He warned us to wear pants to the ankle (to be respectful in the temples) and comfortable shoes. We have a lot of ground to travel. Good night!

2 thoughts on “Thailand: Part 2 First Day in Bangkok; longtail boat ride and floating market

  1. Am impressed with the way Genene tries all the different foods. Most her age would be whining for McDonald’s. Wondering how long you’ll be staying in Bangkok? Guess we’ll have to wait for the next installment.

  2. Are you experiencing the most culture shock of all your travels in Thailand? The scooter picture is quite impressive. Thank you for the excellent blog. We went in a boat cruise out of Bar Harbor to see Puffins. Have been eating lots of lobsuHs and blueberry pie.

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